Europe’s Galileo Sat Nav System Goes Live

Seventeen years in the planning, delayed and over budget, but 2016 witnesses the arrival of Europe’s answer to the GPS system

Europe’s answer to America’s Global Positioning System (GPS) has gone live after the Galileo satellite system on Thursday began delivering  positioning, navigation and timing data to users around the globe.

The first test Galileo satellite was actually launched way back in 2005, but the first operational satellites were actually launched in October 2011.

Galileo now has 18 of 30 satellites in orbit. By 2020 it intends to have 24 operational satellites, with six spares to prevent any interruption in service.

GalileosatelliteInitial Services

Until it reaches 24 operational satellites however, Galileo will be boosted by satellites from the American GPS system.

The EU Commission and European Space Agency (ESA), which created the system, formally announced the start of Galileo Initial Services, the first step towards full operational capability. It said that Galileo will provide positioning data of unprecedented accuracy.

“Further launches will continue to build the satellite constellation, which will gradually improve the system performance and availability worldwide,” the agency said. It intends to hand over system operations and service provision to the European Global Navigation Satellite System Agency next year.

“For ESA, this is a very important moment in the programme,” explained ESA director general Jan Woerner. “We know that the performance of the system is excellent.”

“The announcement of Initial Services is the recognition that the effort, time and money invested by ESA and the Commission has succeeded, that the work of our engineers and other staff has paid off, that European industry can be proud of having delivered this fantastic system.”

As of May this year there were 14 of 30 Galileo satellites in orbit, but the agency last month launched four more satellites into space, demonstrating the speed at which the network is being deployed.

“Today’s announcement marks the transition from a test system to one that is operational,” said Paul Verhoef, ESA’s Director of the Galileo Programme and Navigation-related Activities. “Still, much work remains to be done. The entire constellation needs to be deployed, the ground infrastructure needs to be completed and the overall system needs to be tested and verified.”

Three Services

“In addition, together with the Commission we have started work on the second generation, and this is likely to be a long but rewarding adventure,” he said.

It seems that Galileo is now providing three service types with Galileo.

The first service is called the Open Service, which is a free mass-market service for users with enabled chipsets in smartphones and car navigation systems for example. This is fully interoperable with GPS, so that combined coverage will deliver more accurate and reliable positioning for users.

The second service is Galileo’s Public Regulated Service, which is described as an encrypted, robust service for government-authorised users such as civil protection, fire brigades and the police.

The third service is the Search and Rescue Service. The ESA said that the time between someone locating a distress beacon when lost at sea or in the wilderness will now be reduced from up to three hours to just 10 minutes, with its location determined to within 5 km, rather than the previous 10 km.

Rival Systems

It should be remembered that there are other navigation systems in orbit.

The United States government controls the widely used GPS system, however it can selectively deny access to the system, as happened to India in the late 1990s.

Russia also has its own version called the Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS), which had incomplete coverage of the globe until the mid-2000s.

China meanwhile has its BeiDou Navigation Satellite System, while Japan has the Quasi-Zenith Satellite System, and India has the Regional Navigation Satellite System (NAVIC).

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